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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: José Mujica aux portes du succès

by Cathy Ceïbé

José Mujica on the Verge of Winning

Translated Wednesday 28 October 2009, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Isabelle Métral

The candidate of the Frente Amplio [1] dominated, on Sunday, the first ballot in the Uruguayan presidential election. On 29 November the ex-guerilla will confront Alberto Lacalle, the right-wing candidate.

José "Pepe" Mujica needed only 18,041 more votes in order to be elected on the first ballot. On Sunday, the leftist candidate of the Broad Front came out way ahead in the Uruguayan presidential election with 47.49% of the vote. Even if the ex-guerilla of the Tupamaros hasn’t equalled the score of his predecessor in the Frente Amplio, Tabaré Vasquez, in 2004 (50.7%), he pulled ahead by almost a half a million votes over his principal rival on the Right, the former president, accused of corruption, Luis Alberto Lacalle, of the Parti Nacional, who received 28.53% of the votes.

Arriving in third position, the Parti Colorado, an unbeatable right-wing group up until the preceding general elections, came in with 16.66% of the votes. Their candidate, Pedro Bordaberry, son of the dictator, immediately announced that he will vote for Lacalle on the second ballot, in hopes of barring the road to "Pepe", as the Uruguayans affectionately call him.

On Sunday night, before thousands of supporters of the Frente, the leftist candidate called upon them to make a big effort for another thirty days. "This is not a battle between super-heros or phenomena. It is the cause of a people, a collective cause, an engagement. No individual can bring prosperity to a society. Prosperity, we are all going to win together," he exhorted them, speaking in the popular dialect, as is his habit.

The rallying of the Parti Colorado to the Parti Nacional came as no surprise. A long-standing alliance had enabled them to vampirize the Uruguayan political life starting with the independence of the country in 1825, up until 2004. But this alliance should not be able to disturb the extremely favorable swing for Mujica in the second ballot. The 2.43% for the candidate of the Parti Independente, Pablo Mieres, who will not offer his votes to any particular candidate, should not make much difference either. The task for the Frente Amplio is simply to keep its own voters mobilized.

The Uraguayans have also renewed the Assembly and the Senate, giving the Frente Amplio a clear majority in the two chambers, but much weaker than the results obtained in 2004 [2]. Two referenda, on the vote for citizens residing in other countries, and on the impunity for those who committed crimes under the dictatorship, also figured on the ballot, but did not obtain the majority of 50%
required in order to change existing legislation. (See the related article.) These were disappointing results for the Left, which had put them up for popular consultation, having previously failed to get them through parliament.

In 2004, the victory on the first ballot by Tabaré Vasquez constituted a true rupture in the political history of Uruguay. For the first time, the Left managed to climb to power, blocking the hitherto all powerful right wing. Five years later, the touch-down is being converted by a kick for extra points. And it’s not just by chance that Pepe Mujica has constantly stressed the political record of his predecessor: a gross national product up 35.4%, an increase of 100% in exports, unemployment at 7% (as opposed to 14% in 2004), salaries up by an average of 30%, and so forth. Which has not kept the Frente from splitting over orientations of Vasquez judged too liberal, concerning foreign economic policy. To respond to internal contradictions and to accelerate social reforms, as the FA electorate demands, these constitute two major challenges for Pepe Mujica if he is elected president on 29 November.

[1Broad Front, FA

[2The Frente Amplio retains its majority with 15 senators (down 1 from 2004) and 50 deputies (down 2). With 9 senators, the National Party loses two seats. It has 29 seats in the Assembly, seven less than in 2005. The Parti Colorado pases from 3 seats to 6 in the Senate. It won 18 seats for deputies, a gain of 8.


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